Franchise Fees and Medicaid Predictions

The Escambia County Commission is considering raising the caps on electric and natural gas franchise fees by 50 percent. Such an increase would generate between $2.5 and $3 million for the county.

“I think the jump is too aggressive,” said Commissioner Grover Robinson, allowing that the caps did need to be raised some.

While Robinson and Commissioner Gene Valentino were supportive of the hike Commissioner Kevin White and Chairman Wilson Robertson were not keen on the notion. White initially expressed concern over even advertising a public hearing on the matter.

“If there’s not going to be any support on this board to raise the cap, is there any point in spending money on the advertising fee?” White asked.

County Administrator Randy Oliver said the increased revenue generated from the raise would be needed for economic development. He noted that the commissioners had recently given the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce $550,000 for that purpose, and could not continue to do so without bringing in more revenue.

“It is my opinion , to be a force in the economic development world we need some source of dedicated funding,” Oliver told the commissioners.

Robinson said the county also needed to financially prepare itself for future years. He noted that the state of Florida would most likely increasingly defer to the counties for various costs.

“You think you have problems with Medicaid now?” Robinson said, relaying information he gleaned from a recent Florida Association of Counties meeting. “Wait until you see what’s going to be happening in the future. There’s some scary stuff out there.”

This past year, Florida counties were asked to pay a backlog of Medicaid expenses. Robinson told his fellow board members to expect to be asked to pick up increased Medicaid expenses as well as other costs.

“Don’t think the state is not going to dump this on us. The state is going to do whatever the state is going to do and we’re going to be in this,” he said. “That’s their mantra, to make us raise taxes so they can say, ‘we don’t raise taxes.’”

During the commission meeting this morning, the board decided not to pursue a lawsuit against the state over the backlog of Medicaid expenses. In July, the state reduced Escambia’s Medicaid expenses from more than $8 million, to about half that.

“It is not in the county’s best financial interest to pursue the appeal,” said County Attorney Alison Rogers.

Robinson said that most of the other counties in the state were also walking away from the lawsuit.

“I can’t say that the picture going forward is quite so rosy,” he said, painting a bleak forecast for Florida’s Medicaid program. “I don’t know how we’re going to solve this issue, it certainly does not get any better going forward.”

When Robinson and Valentino recently attended the FAC meeting in Bay County, there was much discussion of the counties’ Medicaid woes.

“I can tell you, many commissioners there thought we should just blow up the system and start over,” he said.

Also during today’s commission workshop, the board congratulated Chairman Robertson on winning his recount race against challenger Jesse Casey (who was in attendance, and reciprocated the congrats). The Chairman joked that his new nickname should be “landslide.”

“His new nickname is ‘32,’” said Valentino, referencing the vote margin.